New Tools to “Startup” Your Judaic Studies Classroom
The Startup Pavilion, a place for emerging companies in EdTech to demo their products, is always one of our favorite places at the ISTE Conference, and this year it didn’t disappoint. This year’s trends included many tools for game-based learning, STEM, and coding. We love seeing new EdTech in these areas, but we are always especially on the lookout for tools that can be applied to Judaic Studies. This year, there were two startups in particular that caught our eye for their versatility and the variety of ways they could be used by Judaic Studies teachers. Here are some highlights of what we discovered:
We know how challenging it can be to find effective, ready-to-go Judaic content online. This EdTech tool transforms any website into an engaging lesson, so we’re really excited about its potential for Judaic Studies and blended learning in general. You can actually create an online lesson right on the web page! No more needing to copy and paste, emailing yourself links, or spending hours trying to make a website more interesting. DocentEDU cuts out all the middlemen and turns your favorite online content into a great lesson by guiding your students through your lesson without them having to leave the site.
Teachers have multiple options to choose from when deciding how to connect websites with their own lesson materials. The Questions feature allows you to embed questions anywhere on the website. Another option is including a synchronous dialogue with students about the content using the Discussion feature. Teachers and students can respond to each other and the whole dialogue is saved via DocentEDU for future reference. The Insight feature is open-ended and allows for everything from embedding videos and Prezis, to allowing for student comments, to external images on the lesson topic. One of the main benefits of using DocentEDU is that it keeps students focused on one page, instead of them having to jump around to different website tabs or learning platforms. Teachers will also love this tool because it exists in both a desktop version (laptops, Chromebooks, etc.) and an iOS app.
There are over a billion websites on the Internet today. Not all of them have Jewish content, of course, but with DocentEDU Judaic Studies teachers now have the option of creating digital lessons from all the websites they find applicable. Find a great article about Sukkot? Now you can embed a video of people building a sukkah, provide the biblical sources for Sukkah-building, show pictures of sukkot, and ask your students questions on all of the above to get them thinking analytically about the holiday. For teaching Talmud, we can imagine students and teachers engaging in a chevruta-like back and forth online dialogue using the Discussion feature as part of their work outside class. The possibilities are endless!
There are a lot of blogging platforms out there, but Easyblog stands out among them for how truly easy it is to setup and use. It’s kid-friendly with readable fonts, bright colors, and large buttons. Teachers can create their class blogs and then folders for each subject. Each student can then have their own blog within the larger class blog. Each time they want to make a blog entry, students can choose to post text, photos, or video. In a new feature coming soon, they will also be able to record voiceover for photo posts. Everything is then saved to the subject blog the student chooses, so the tool can serve as an ePortfolio containing all their posts from the whole year.
Posts on Easyblog can be used as a form of assessment. Students can interact with each other by writing comments on each other’s blog posts. The tool also provides parents with a secure link to access their child’s blog, so students are not only writing for themselves or their teacher, they are writing for their peers and families, which can provide extra motivation and increase engagement.
The ways teachers can use Easyblog are nearly endless. Blogging is a great way to have students respond to the weekly parasha. Students could post a photo to represent the parasha, or a video explaining a lesson they learned from reading the parasha. They could also pose questions about the parasha on the blog, and then their peers could respond in comments, simulating a kind of online chevruta or beit midrash discussion. Easyblog can also be used as a creative assessment for other topics. For Jewish history, students could blog about a specific historical figure, even writing as that person. If you’re teaching about the commandments, students could use their blogs as a kind of mitzvah journal, posting about their experience of performing various mitzvot. They could track their feelings about mitzvot throughout the year using blog posts as markers. Again, there is a plethora of possibilities!
Yonah Kirschner, former Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications at The Jewish Education Project.